I had qualified for Boston at the 2011 NYC Marathon. I thought, why not use the ticket if I already have one – and signed up. Preparation had gone well, despite parts of it taking place in freezing Norway; I followed a seven weeks plan for triathletes where a few of the very long runs are replaced by moderately long runs followed by two hours of cycling. While in Norway, I replaced cycling with cross-country skiing, and when back in Switzerland, I replaced some of these run/bike combos with actual long runs, maxing out at 36 km (22 mi). The only running race I did during the preparation were the Swiss 10 km Champs (where I PBed).
I had been thoroughly briefed about the course by people who’d run it before, so I knew that going out too hard would be stupid and that the hills starting at km 25 are tough. My elaborate plan was to hold a pace of about 4:05 min/km until the hills and then see what happens. A foolproof recipe for a PB!
Before running, I had to get to Boston, which took place by way of a series of flights and was crowned by meeting my hosts: Jen and Joel, your average ultrarunning extreme mountaineering my-first-triathlon-was-a-70.3 couple. Let’s just say that even if the race had been horrible, my stay would still have been awesome. I was taken care of 24/7 – thanks again, you two (and Bree with the world’s best retrieving dog, Peanut)!
At the expo, I also bumped into Bria whom I’d only known from her website so far. Nice meeting you!
On race morning, I opted not to take the busses from Boston to the staging area in Hopkinton, but was driven directly there. Did I mention my wonderful hosts?
I was among the earliest runners there, so we had no problems with traffic and I had lots of time to kill until the start.
People had their picture taken in front of this sign:
And I was decked out in throwaway clothes to keep me warm:
When it was finally time to slowly move to the starting area, I did something very stupid and dropped off the bag with stuff to be delivered to the finish with my gel belt still in it. I realised it a minute later, and luckily they could still retrieve it. There is only one gel given out during the race, and that’s definitely not cutting it for me.
Here I am in my corral, wearing said belt and an awkward toothless smile:
It wasn’t much later that the first wave was assembled completely and waiting for the start. I’m pretty sure I’m in this picture, but all the zooming in the world didn’t help to actually find myself.
And off we went!
Boston is unique in that about the first ten kilometres are downhill and that you’re running surrounded by people who were about as fast as you when they qualified. I’ve been warned not to get sucked into starting too fast, and I obediently followed this advice. My first 5 km were the slowest of the first 25 (until the hills), but this being said, they were all almost the same (between 20:21 and 20:31).
It’s hard to tell where exactly the pictures were taken. A bit of detective work (number of gels left, snot spot status on left shoulder) led to what is probably the correct order, but that’s it.
As mentioned, the first 25 km were uneventful. I kept checking my watch, happy every time I hit my exact pace and took in fluids every five kilometres if I felt like it and a gel every ten kilometres. This might be around the first gel:
And this must have been a little later, seeing that one gel has been devoured. Also, birth of the snot spot:
"Uneventful" might be a lie. Shortly before half marathon point, there was the famous "Scream Tunnel" at the (all woman) Wellesley College. I had been told this would be great, and it was. There was screaming abound, and a forest of signs explaining why their respective bearers should be kissed. There was
unfortunately of course no time for shenanigans, but it was certainly fun to run past.
This might be the half marathon point:
Before the hills started, there was a short downhill section, leading to my fastest kilometre split of the day. But then! The next four kilometres were all slower as in 4:24, 4:16, 4:28 and 4:16. The fact that people around me were passing me told me that uphill still wasn’t a strength of mine.
This could have been on that hill:
A short flat section brought a bit of relief, but then it was time for Heartbreak Hill. A name thoroughly deserved as I felt like standing still going up that incline. My splits were 4:35, 4:22 and 4:49 – hardly sub three material! However, my 5k splits from 25 to 35 km were 21:13 and 21:57, so not all was lost. From now on, it was mostly downhill with a few mean bumps.
This could have been on one of those downhill parts:
At 35 km, my official overall average pace was just a bit slower than 4:11 min/km, giving me a projected finishing time of 2:56:48. Totally within the scope of my elaborate battle plan of “steady for the first 25 km, don’t die on the hills, bring it home”.
However, despite the apparent net downhill properties of the last few kilometres, they didn’t feel easy at all. My pace was less steady now, oscillating between 4:04 and 4:29. About five kilometres from the finish, I saw (and heard) Brian, the (now) president of our running team, cheering for me – always good for a boost!
Here I am starting the finishing straight, if I remember correctly:
I managed to put in a decent final effort to finish with a net time of 2:57:12, a PB of almost two minutes over my NYC marathon time. I’ll take it!
I got geared up in my space blanket:
There was no long wait to get my clothes, and Jen was already waiting for me at the meeting point. A short subway and car ride later, we were home. Only then the concerned messages started trickling in, and the rest of the day was spent watching TV in disbelief.
The only way I was affected was that we couldn’t go into the city for dinner, but that was it. The very next day, it was no problem at all to get to the airport, and apart from a few extra questions before boarding the plane, everything was normal. I haven’t seen or experienced anything more than everybody who was watching TV that day, hence no deep comments and thoughts on that incident.